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Despite its winning cast and franchise pedigree, Dark Phoenix stayed amid the ashes upon its theatrical release this summer. This twelfth installment in the X-Men franchise is a direct sequel to 2016 film X-Men: Apocalypse, and attempts to cram the majority of Marvel Comics' The Dark Phoenix Saga into one two-hour film. No surprise, meddlesome Fox nixed plans to tell this story over two films in the months before its recent merger with Disney, leaving star Sophie Turner stranded in a forgettable action film that does not rank among the series' best. There is enough here to entertain for 114 minutes, and the performances by James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Jennifer Lawrence, as returning X-Men, are good. Turner's work here is better than her debut in Apocalypse, but Dark Phoenix wastes the talents of its cast and an interesting comic origin story on this bland, corporate retelling.
Director Simon Kinberg, who wrote several other X-Men films, nails the slick look of the series, and the visual effects are nicely integrated throughout. Dark Phoenix opens on a young Jean Grey (Summer Fontana/Turner) in the back seat of her parents' car. She becomes frustrated when told she cannot pick the radio station and inadvertently uses telepathy, causing her mom to crash the car. Now an orphan, Grey is rescued by Charles Xavier (McAvoy) and taken to his School of Gifted Youngsters. Seventeen years later, Grey is part of the X-Men team deemed heroes after defeating En Sabah Nur in the previous film. She joins Mystique (Lawrence), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Quicksilver (Evan Peters) and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) on a mission to space to save a stricken astronaut crew. The mission is successful, but Grey is stranded outside her ship when a cosmic energy approaches, enveloping her. She survives but finds her psychic powers, telekinetic abilities and strength amplified and uncontrollable.
Turner's performance was stilted and awkward in Apocalypse, which was kind of a surprise given her solid work on Game of Thrones. She does a much better job this go-round, so things are not all bad here. We have seen this Dark Phoenix story told in X-Men: The Last Stand to mixed results, but Dark Phoenix is not much better. A major problem with Kinberg's film, which he also wrote, is that it expects viewers to care about the pitfalls and tragedies of Grey/Phoenix but only presents brief, rushed highlights that lack emotional heft. If the story was given some room to breathe, Dark Phoenix may have been more successful. As it stands, the film feels like a slipshod greatest hits reel that sees Grey align with Magneto (Fassbender), be courted and deceived by the mysterious Vuk (Jessica Chastain), and feud and hurt her own friends. The action is slick and performances generally good, but none of these events makes the impact viewers crave.
It will be interesting to see the direction in which this franchise goes moving forward. I smell trouble on the horizon for The New Mutants with all its release-date shifting, which is a shame because a horror film using franchise characters is a cool concept. Now that Fox is under the Disney/Marvel banner, I expect we will see a reboot at some point. Dark Phoenix is the natural close to the X-Men: First Class saga, and major character arcs are largely concluded. It is a shame that the film did not send this overall satisfying franchise out (at least in this chapter) more successfully. Dark Phoenix improves several points lacking in The Last Stand, including its explanation of the cosmic force, Grey and Scott Summers' (Sheridan) relationship, and Grey's interplay with the other X-Men. Unfortunately, the film feels hollow despite a couple of genuinely interesting character bits. The action remains polished but is not anything especially memorable, and those hoping Grey's Phoenix would become the next revered female action superhero will undoubtedly leave disappointed.
What is not disappointing is the Blu-ray's 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer, which benefits from a healthy bitrate. The digitally sourced image offers excellent delineation, fine-object detail and texture. Wide shots are clean and crisp, highlights are natural, and skin tones appear true. There is some minor variance in shadow detail, which is not surprising for an effects-heavy, digitally shot film, but black levels are generally good. The film offers nicely saturated primaries, and the outdoor scenes at Magneto's camp provide impressively lush landscapes. I noticed no issues with digital noise or smearing.
The raucous 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix offers fantastically immersive audio for home theater setups. Action effects provide omnipresent, directional and panning sound; ambient effects like wind and crowd noise craftily surround the viewer; and the subwoofer provides near-constant support to the on-screen action. Dialogue is clear and appropriately balanced. The score is rich and expertly integrated, and crowding is never an issue. Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital subs are included as are English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Finally realizing DVD is dead, Fox opts for a single-disc Blu-ray release that includes a Movies Anywhere HD digital copy. The disc is packed in an eco-case that is wrapped in a slipcover that sports Disney's typical, unattractive "multi-screen edition" banner. Extras included Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Director/Writer Kinberg and Producer Hutch Parker (8:22 total/HD) and Rise of the Phoenix: The Making of Dark Phoenix (1:20:32/HD), a lengthy making-of piece with solid interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. There is no sign of trouble ahead here, and the cast and crew are all very enthusiastic about the project. You also get How to Fly Your Jet with Beast (2:03/HD), a fluffy piece with Hoult; an Audio Commentary by Kinberg and Parker; and Theatrical Trailers (6:27/HD).
I did not hate this film like many others apparently do. Hell, I really did not love Apocalypse either. Dark Phoenix is an ultimately hollow, disappointing and sporadically entertaining close to the First Class saga and this era of X-Men. The Blu-ray offers strong technical specs and a few solid bonus features. Fans will likely want this in their collections, but I suggest everyone Rent It first.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.